Album review: Angel Olsen – All Mirrors

By Sage Shemroske

Angel Olsen has had a very particular experience with how the press responds to her music. Years ago a Chicago radio host described Olsen as “kind of like a girl at the bottom of a dark well”, and that helped paint the picture of Olsen as some sort of lonesome storyteller. The sadness she communicated and her personhood became inseparable. She was intertwined with introversion and wet eyeliner and worn tales of love. But her ability to act as a living ventricle is what makes her music so integral to any of us that are deep feelers; she is fluent in the pains of the human heart and translates for us. On her newest album, ‘All Mirrors’, Olsen challenges us to choose what is the performance and who is the person correctly. Olsen has donned many female archetypes over the years whether it be the stark and wry woman on ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witnes’s or the eager lover on ‘MY WOMAN’. But on ‘All Mirrors’ each caricature and each point in her life have room to stand side-by-side. 

The selves on ‘All Mirrors’ don’t stand alone so much as act as different facets of one bigger moving piece, an orchestrated, cinematic voice that grows wiser as it wanders. The impossible opener ‘Lark’ pulses forward with sharp hindsight “walking down that path we made when we thought/what we had was such a good thing”. It is both lovelorn and self sufficient, seething in grandeur. The track is a volta in itself with the build of the orchestra becoming almost grating, merging from lush to granular. Olsen is a master at giving action to each part of the story, creating luxurious tension and then snapping the string. The vastness of the album is navigated with Olsen as a perceptive protagonist. The orchestra acts as a character of their own on ‘Tonight’, which is translucent in its understanding and unrelenting in its feeling. Here Olsen realizes she’s not upset, she just isn’t in love anymore, and there isn’t a moment to explain it all.

The perspectives on ‘All Mirrors’ are varied and each track doesn’t reach quite the same conclusion, but they find their way to each other and weave a clever self-awareness. ‘Summer’ is gallant and technicolor. “If I could show you the hell I’d been to” she sings, recounting the process of becoming reacquainted with yourself through sticky heat. ‘All Mirrors’ shows up for itself unafraid- knowing it can’t change the reactions of others. It’s self-fulfilled. ‘What It Is’ thumps out, carefully calibrated. The track vibrates as she accuses “you just wanted to forget” before the symphony becomes massive and untamed. The air settles for a moment before repeating “it’s easy if you’re passionate”. On ‘Spring’ Olsen is perhaps at her most reflective, warbling “guess we’re just at the mercy of the way we feel”. It’s a tender and truly happy moment in the centre of the album. “I’m holdin’ your baby now that we’re older”, her vibrato an emotional gesture. It’s not surrendering to the idea of settling down so much as shedding a jagged ennui and realizing the beauty in being unashamed of how life happens, of how community settles in around you. This is the revelatory nature of ‘All Mirrors’, Olsen arriving at a certain clarity. The album title is not a nod to vanity but rather self reflection and true perception. Olsen has always been keenly aware of her presence and the analyzations that come with it, so she’s created something so expansive it can’t be pigeonholed. ‘All Mirrors’ reckons with full totality and it’s perfectly aware of its reflection.

‘All Mirrors’ is out now on Jagjaguwar

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